Mary Eberstadt, author of “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution,” managed to get a plug for her book in the Wall Street Journal. Her article’s title is, “Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women? No.”
The “No” puts Eberstadt’s conclusion right up front, as if to head off any plans the reader might have to ponder the question. But how has she arrived at such a conclusion? She read a paper entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” written by two Wharton School economists, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. Their paper is an analysis of data from a 40-year longitudinal study done by the General Social Survey. Their findings were that female happiness had in fact declined somewhat since 1970.
Stevenson and Wolfers did not propose an explanation for this decline. Instead, they discussed several possible causes. (For more details, see my earlier article about Eberstadt and her book.)
Eberstadt’s agenda is obvious. Her reading of Stevenson’s and Wolfers’ paper is a “mining operation” whose aim is to find support for her a priori conclusion that sex, severed from procreation, makes women less happy. Such an approach is highly unscientific because (1) we form our conclusions after analyzing the data, not before, and (2) there is no data to support her conclusion. What is more, the authors of “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” would be unlikely to endorse her conclusion, if their own caveats are to be believed. Their only conclusion was that female happiness had declined, and they provided no data to support any conclusion whatsoever about the causes of the decline.
Eberstadt acknowledges that Stevenson and Wolfers “were careful not to draw conclusions (about causes) from their data.” But, as the “No” in her title demonstrates, she is not quite so scrupulous as they, and she is willing to negotiate if necessary: “Is it not reasonable,” she writes, “to think that at least some of that discontent comes from the feeling that the grass is greener elsewhere—a feeling made plausible by the sexual revolution?”
Before recommending a roll-back of the sexual revolution, Mary Eberstadt should conduct some peer-reviewed research to support her thesis. Until then, the cure she advances for feminine malaise is quintessential agenda-driven speculation.
For an informed and non-agenda-driven discussion of the many possible causes of unhappiness, see the “World Happiness Report” edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs.